Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review (spoilers)

  Steve Rogers, aka the supersoldier from WWII, Captain America, is back in this latest installment of the Marvel Comic Universe and is still struggling to adapt to the fast-paced 21st century. He has become an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and is using his war skills to help stomp out the big crimes and threats to national security. In his downtime, he is catching up on all he's missed during his seventy-year slumber, from Thai food to Star Wars (imagine watching The Empire Strikes Back with Steve, hmm?). Now that the shock has worn off, now that the world is no longer endangered from aliens led by power-hungry Norse-gods, he has time to grieve for what he's lost. Maybe not in crying actual tears, but the pain is still there.
  Peggy, his dear friend and battlefield sweetheart, wiles away her days alone in a nursing home, gray-haired, wrinkled, and lost to him. Not merely because of her Alzeimer's, but also because of that seventy-year gap where she went on with her life and he was sleeping. All those lost days and years lie between them like a chasm, and nothing will ever truly bridge it again.
  And Bucky. Good, ole Bucky. A true friend. A best friend. Childhood companion and fellow troublemaker, always good in a scrape, a soldier to the end. A man who's life was worthy to be celebrated, to be honored, whether in Steve's own heart, or in a museum display. Bucky's sacrifice will never be forgotten.
  Despite these unique and tragic losses, Steve Rogers does have a few bright sides to his difficult existence. His time at S.H.I.E.L.D is going well, the missions keep him occupied, help him forget the culture shift. Natasha, the Black Widow, has been good to him, if not a little rough around the edges. And he's found a new companion in Sam Wilson, a war veteran from the modern day.
  Yes, life is going alright, at least, from Steve's surface perspective.
  In reality, this new modern life as he knows it may be about to self-destruct.
  S.H.I.E.L.D has been compromised, it's leader is on the run, it's agents are turning traitor left and right, and a brand new threat has surfaced, one that even Captain America may not be able to stop.
  The enemies were obvious when Steve Rogers first became Captain America, back in the good old days, it was easier to be a good guy. Staring down Hitler or tangling with Hydra has a way of perfecting a person's sense of right and wrong.
  But those were the good old days, and those days are long gone, as Steve has come to understand so well. The clear cut, black and white of his youth has turned gray, the line between friend and enemy has been blurred, the country that he risked his life for, the organization that has employed him to continue, slinks and spies, cheats and lies, perhaps for good reasons, as argued by Nicky Fury (head of S.H.I.E.L.D), or perhaps not. And as the days grow increasingly darker, Stever Rogers is left to wonder;
  Who am I really fighting for? Who are the good guys in this mess? Or does it even matter anymore?

  I very much enjoyed the first Captain America film, borrowing it from the library after being exposed to The Avengers. Despite the rather interesting plothole at the end of the film, it was a thoroughly enjoyable movie, with a nice, clean-cut, honest hero, not-so-nice, clean-cut villains, and a cool sci-fi take on WWII (an era of history I find fascinating). Not to mention all the cameos  of some of my favorite characters (Elrond, Thorin, Grace Van Pelt, etc).
  That being said, the sequel absolutely blew my mind. Despite the much darker tone of this film than anything Marvel has done before, I was absolutely hooked from start to finish. Captain America is one of my favorite superheroes and in this film, his internal struggles come more to the surface. One of the most interesting things about him is the fact he came directly from the past into the 21st century future. Trying to fathom the shock that someone would suffer through being thrown straight into this crazy millennium is difficult, but the consequences are interesting, and the way they play out in both subtle and non-subtle ways during the film is both interesting and tragic.
  Nick Fury and Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) are both characters that remained rather low in my list of favorite Marvel heroes, but this movie has definitely elevated them both. While neither of them begin or become as straightforward and honest as Cap, his influence on them is obvious by the film's conclusion. They may both be willing to cheat, lie, maim or sneak to get a job done, but Steve's simpler, upright approach does have its benefits, its positives, as they come to understand. When their world is crashing in around them, it is Captain America's sincerity, his virtue, his belief in the good of the world, that pulls them through, helps them go on.
  Despite how great Director Fury and Black Widow are, and how much I love Captain America, it was the Winter Soldier (aka, Bucky Barnes) that came out as my favorite character from this film. I am a sucker for the brothers-turned-enemies trope and this one was definitely one of my favorites (and one of the most tragic) I've had the pleasure of experiencing heartbreak with. Also, I do love a good anti-hero, especially one as fantastically skilled and awe-inspiring as brainwashed Bucky has become. A calm, cold, deadly assassin, the perfect foil for genuine, good-hearted Captain America.
  What surprised me most about this film however, was the incredibly relevant and somewhat shocking portrait that was painted of our world today. History repeating itself was never more clear than the moment in which Steve realizes that his sacrifice in the War was almost futile. He never stopped Hydra's plans at all, he only delayed them, gave them a new, darker goal to achieve. The Nazis and Hydra had tried to take the people's freedom in the War by force, but they clung to it, fighting back, perhaps more viciously than expected. So a new and subtler plan was introduced. Why go through all the trouble of taking their freedom, when they could simply encourage them to hand it over willingly out of fear, in the name of "security and peace." How true to the times is that idea? How blunt and obvious? How clear an image of our world? What makes it so frightening is just how plausible it is, so much so that walking out of the theatre, I could almost believe that there really was a Hydra out there, orchestrating the chaos that so plainly exists around our globe.
  It's these concepts of freedom and fear and the lines people are willing to cross and the things they are willing to sacrifice for security that made the film for me. Often, Hollywood blockbusters focus more on the action and the romance of their stories rather than relevant, timeless issues such as those presented in The Winter Soldier. And to me, that seems a tremendous waste. All the opportunities to present truth to audiences lost for the sake of "pleasing a demographic" or making more money. The Winter Soldier is at the top of the box office right now, so people obviously do care about these issues. My hope is that in seeing this idea so clearly shown for just a movie moment, they will be more apt to recognize similar themes in reality.
  Perhaps these examples of terror and freedom and the marring of black and white could be considered exaggerated here (it is still, after all, a Marvel movie) but that doesn't change the truth that lurks underneath.
    "We will neutralize threats before they happen."
    "I thought the punishment usually came after the crime....This isn't freedom - this is fear."


A POST-SCRIPT:
  Now that my more serious musings are out of the way, I'd like to take a minute just to make note of the little, awesome things that made gave me heart palpatations as I watched. A warning; I cannot guarantee just how much of my fangirl side will be released in this section, tread carefully.
  - Steve's List: The one which he pulls out in the presence of Sam Wilson (the Falcon). The camera gives us a nice little shot of Steve's pop culture list, and speculating about someone's first time experience with these things couldn't be more fun! I've already mentioned this above, but seriously, imagine watching the Star Wars trilogy with Steve! It would be so great!
  - The Suit Switch: For the first chunk of the film, Steve wears a more low-key, dark version of his Captain America costume while his original outfit sits gathering dust in the Smithsonian. Most people seemed to not like the original, more patriotic costume, but I'm glad that he donned it for the second half of the movie. I do love a little nostalgia.
  - Natasha's Necklace: For those of you interested in a little Avengers romance, you may be pleased to note that during parts of the film, Natasha can be seen wearing a small, silver arrow necklace. Apparently, the actress, Scarlett Johansson, requested this subtle hint herself. I'll let you guys draw your own conclusions...
  - Future Shield References: There have been a couple of instances in which Bucky/The Winter Soldier handles Steve's signature shield, perhaps a hint of things to come, since in the comic book universe, Bucky does take up Captain America's role for a time. And it is worth mentioning that Sebastian Stan (Bucky) has signed a contract for nine Marvel films while Chris Evans (Steve) has only signed on for six.
  - Stan Lee Cameo: Another solid Stan Lee cameo as he portrays a nightguard in the Smithsonian who fears being fired after Cap "borrows" his old costume. We all love Stan Lee, so let's just take a moment to appreciate him here.
  - The Maximoff Twins: And finally, two characters I am REALLY excited to see in The Age of Ultron film next year. Wanda and Pietro (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) have definitely grabbed my interest and I look forward to seeing them in future films. Their short cameo here (in the credits scene) was a very creepy yet cool glimpse of what's to come next year. Couldn't be more happy about these additions to the Avengers team!

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